Bible Question:

Are there historical facts or prophesies that reveal Christ is the Messiah?

Bible Answer:

The obvious difficulty in answering the question, “Are there any historical facts that reveal Christ was the Messiah?” is the meaning of “Messiah.” What does “Messiah” mean to a conservative, reformed, or orthodox Jew? What does Messiah mean to a Christian? Once we understand how the Jews of Christ’s time understood the prophesies of the Old Testament, it will become obvious that Christ is the Messiah.

Prophesies About The Messiah

The Jews of Christ’s time understood a number of Old Testament passages as prophesies related to the Messiah.

Genesis 49:10 – Messiah Would Rule

The first one we shall consider is Genesis 49:8-10.

Judah, your brothers shall praise you;
Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;
Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.
Judah is a lion’s whelp;
From the prey, my son, you have gone up.
He couches, he lies down as a lion,
And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
Until Shiloh comes,
And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Genesis 49:8-10 (NASB)

The last verse refers to a ruler who has a staff or scepter. McClintock and Strong demonstrate that ancient Judaism once understood Genesis 49:10 to refer to the coming Messiah. However, after the coming of Christ they changed their interpretation of the passage.

This prediction all the ancient Jews referred to the Messiah. Ben-Uzziel renders it, “Until the time when the king Messiah shall come.” The Targum of Onkelos speaks to the same effect, and that of Jerusalem paraphrases it thus: “Kings shall not cease from the house of Judah, nor doctors that teach the law from his children, until that the king Messiah do come, whose the kingdom is; and all nations of the earth shall be subject unto him.”[1]

The Targum of Onkelos is estimated to have been written in A.D. 35–120. Modern Judaism has reinterpreted staff or scepter as “rod” to avoid the sense of royalty.

Daniel 9:25-26 – The Messiah Would Die

Once again McClintock and Strong help us understand that ancient Judaism also understood Daniel 9:25-26 to refer to the Messiah. The Scripture passage clearly refers to Messiah the prince.

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. Daniel 9:25-26 (NASB)

Yet, modern Judaism translates “Messiah the Prince” as the “anointed leader” and dismisses this as a reference to the Messiah. Yet, ancient Judaism believed that it referred to the Messiah. After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the interpretation changed.

Indeed, there is a saying extant in the Talmud, as the tradition of former times, “In Daniel is delivered to us the end of the Messiah,” i.e. the term wherein he ought to come, as it is explained by Jarchi. Grotius (De Veritat. v) speaks of a Jew, R. Berachia, who lived fifty years before our Lord, and who declared that the time fixed by Daniel could not go beyond fifty years! If then it be the true Messiah who is described in the above prophecy, it remains for us to see how the time predicted for his coming has long since transpired. This is expressly said to be seventy weeks from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem. That by seventy weeks are to be understood seventy sevens of years, a day being put for a year, and a week for seven years, making up 490 years, is allowed by Kimchi, Jarchi, rabbi Saadias, and other learned Jews, as well as by many Christian commentators. It is clear that these seventy weeks cannot consist of weeks of days, for all put together make but one year, four months, and odd days-a space of time too short to crowd so many various events into as are here specified; nor can any such time be assigned between the two captivities, wherein like events did happen (see Prideaux, Connect. lib. v, pt. -1). This period of time then must have long since elapsed . . . [2]

Notice that Grotius (De Veritat. v) said a Jew named “R. Berachia, who lived fifty years before our Lord, and who declared that the time fixed by Daniel could not go beyond fifty years!”

Micah 5:2 (Micah 5:1 in the Hebrew Bible) – The Messiah Would Die

The prophecy of Micah states that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, which is five miles south of the city of Jerusalem.

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.
Micah 5:2 (NASB)

Berlin and Brettler state that ancient Judaism believed this was a reference to the Messiah.

Traditional Jewish interpretations of this v. [verse] tend to focus on comparisons between pangs of a woman and the hardship of the Messiah. . . .’Ullam said: Let him [The Messiah] come, but let me not see him . . . Abaye enquired of Rabbath: ‘What is your reason [for not wishing to see him]? Shall we say, because of the birth pangs [preceding the advent] of the Messiah?'[3]

Thus it is admitted that ancient Judaism believed that Micah 5:2 referred to the Messiah. It is interesting that they do not provide an explanation to the statements of “long ago” and “eternity” which in the Hebrew means the Messiah would be from antiquity and He would be eternal. When the wise men visited Jerusalem in search of Christ, King Herod had asked the chief priests and scribes where the King of the Jews or the Messiah would be born.

Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. Matthew 2:4 (NASB)

They reported back the following,

They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:

‘AND YOU, BETHLEHEM, LAND OF JUDAH,
ARE BY NO MEANS LEAST AMONG THE LEADERS OF JUDAH;
FOR OUT OF YOU SHALL COME FORTH A RULER
WHO WILL SHEPHERD MY PEOPLE ISRAEL.'”
Matthew 2:5-6 (NASB)

It is confirmation that Jesus Christ was and is the Messiah by the indirect admission of ancient Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament prophets and Jewish scholars.

Zechariah 9:9 – The Messiah Would Ride On An Ass

Our second to last prophecy is Zechariah 9:9. This passage reveals that someday the Messiah would ride on an ass into Jerusalem.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Zechariah 9:9 (NASB)

Berlin and Brettler once again state that ancient Jewish interpretation considered this passage a reference to the Messiah.

This image of the ideal future king (Messiah) has been very influential in Jewish tradition . . .[4]

Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – The Messiah Would Die For Sins

Our last prophecy is found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. It speaks of the suffering Messiah. Once again ancient Jewish interpretation understood that Isaiah 53 referred to a Messiah who suffered, but they were confused. McClintock and Strong report the following,

The portrait of an afflicted and suffering Messiah is too minutely sketched by the Psalmist (Psalm 22, 42, 43, 69), by 101 Isaiah (ch. 53), by Zechariah (ch. 11-13), and Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27), to be ignored even by reluctant Jews; and strange is the embarrassment observable in Talmudic Judaism to obviate the advantage which accrues to Christianity from its tenure of this unpalatable doctrine. Long ago did Trypho, Justin Martyr’s Jew, own the force of the prophetic Scriptures, which delineated Messiah as “a man of sorrows” (Justin. Dial. 89). In later times. after the Talmud of Babylon (7th century) became influential, the doctrine of two Messiahs was held among the Jews. For several centuries it was their current belief that Messiah Ben-David was referred to in all the prophecies which spoke of glory and triumph, while on Messiah Ben- Joseph of Ephraim fell all the predicted woes and sufferings. By this expedient they both glorified their traditional idea which exonerated their chief Messiah, of David’s illustrious race, from all humiliation, and likewise saved their nominal deference to the inspired prophets who had written of the sorrows of Messiah. (For a popular sketch of this opinion of two Messiahs, the reader is referred to Smith’s sermons On the Messianic Prophecies of Isaiah, p. 177-181; see also Buxtorf’s Lexicon Talmud. s.v. jyçm, p. 1126, 1127, and s.v. Eisenmenger’s nedecktes Judenthum, 2:720-750; Otho’s Lexicon Rabbin. Schittgen, Horae Hebrews et Rabbin. 2:1-778.)[5]

What do these historical facts reveal? They help us understand that ancient Judaism understood these significant prophesies to refer to a Messiah who would rule as king. Yet, they were confused by Isaiah 52:13-53:12 which spoke of a Messiah that would suffer. Due to this confusion they would never refer to a Messiah that would suffer.

Historical References About Christ

There are many historical references to Jesus Christ. These facts have been provided at this site for two major reasons. First, these historical references demonstrate that Jesus Christ existed. The quotes come from non-Christian sources. Second, the historical quotes provide anyone, including Jewish people, a reason to stop and ask, “Is Christ the Messiah?” The rabbis have said that when Messiah comes, he will usher in a time of universal peace. The rabbis also taught that when Messiah comes, He will come with power and perform wonders. Jesus came with power and He did many miracles.

The Gospel Records

The gospel records tell us that He came with new teachings (Mark 1:27) and performed miracles, signs and wonders (Matthew 4:24-25).

They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him. Mark 1:27 (NASB)

The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan. Matthew 4:24-25 (NASB)

John 6-8 repeatedly tell us that the crowds in Christ’ time were wondering if He was the Messiah. Then near the end of Christ’s ministry, He challenged the Jewish leaders with these words,

Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me.” John 10:25 (NASB)

Later many of the Pharisees believed in Jesus the Christ. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are told that many Jewish priests believed in Him.

Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. John 12:42-43 (NASB)

The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith. Acts 6:7 (NASB)

Conclusion:

Here are the words of Isaiah the prophet about the Messiah who would suffer during His first coming to earth.

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. Isaiah 53:5-7 (NASB)

Other Old Testament prophecies also state that the Messiah would suffer. The majority of them speak of the Messiah’s reign as King of kings and Lord of lords taking place in the distant future.

Christ’s death made it possible for everyone to have their sins forgiven and have eternal life.We encourage you to discover how you can have peace with God and gain eternal life through Jesus the Messiah, our God.

 

References:

1. McClintock and Strong. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. 1867-1887. vol. 6. p. 140.
2. Ibid., pp. 140-141.
3. A. Berlin and M. Brettler. Tanakh. The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford University Press. 1999. p. 1213.
4. Ibid. p. 1259.
5. McClintock and Strong. Ibid., p. 138.

Suggested Links:

Jesus’ Death & Resurrection - Prophesies
Historical Quotes About Christ
Prophecy of Daniel’s 70 Weeks
John the Baptist Has Doubts About Christ
How do the rabbis interpret prophecies about Jesus?
What is the meaning of Isaiah 53:1?
Searching For God